Esotericism of the Popol Vuh — Raphael Girard

Chapter 9

Youth of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué


Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén having been destroyed by conversion into simians, the Third Age comes to a close and this ends the long cycle of Quiché-Maya prehistory.

We have seen that the disappearance of her firstborn grieves Ixmucané; but Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué console her, pointing out that they will now take their older brothers' place, an improvement inasmuch as they will now provide for her.

Then the twins declared what they would do to maintain their prestige with their grandmother and their mother. They will cultivate the milpas: "Only we shall sow the seed," they tell the grandmother emphatically. "We are staying here to support our mother, Ixquic, and you our grandmother, Ixmucané. We will substitute for our older brothers," they said. Then they picked up their hatchets, hoes, and clubs, and went off with their blowguns on their shoulders. When they left the house, they requested their grandmother to bring them their meal when the sun was at the zenith. "Very well, I will do this," the old woman told them.

Here we have a change in the division of labor within the family, marking a decisive step toward the patriarchal regime.

During the former age men remained idle while women busied themselves in providing for them. Now it is the man who works to provide for the family, reducing woman's role to the domestic chores, and chiefly to preparation of the meals to be carried to the fieldworkers. Women became more subordinate to men, since Hunahpú commanded that the twins' meal be brought precisely at midday and the grandmother docilely consented to this by replying, "Very well." These expressions, "Very well" (está bien) and "It is not well" (está mal) which are so frequently repeated in the Quiché text, embody conceptions of what is according or contrary to the laws of religious morality.

We have another change in the family operation in the declaration that "only we shall sow the seed" and in the exclusive use by the man of the hoe or sowing stick, which had been the undivided functions of the woman during the earlier cycle. The origins of this social revolution go back to the time when, besides the members of maternal descent, those of paternal descent were accepted into the family. Thus Hun Bátz, Hun Chouén, Hunahpú, and Ixbalamqué were found under one roof. The two latter were descendants of the seven Ahpú and in terms of their maternal line belonged to a foreign clan.


Few if any historical sources reveal in such a precise manner the mediating form in the passage from descendance through the female line to that through the male, this being something that happened centuries before our era. Naturally this process did not occur without friction. The animosity of the eldest cousins and the struggle they wage to assert their rights reveal this condition of things, the precursor of the patriarchal regimen. It is logical to think that at first the descendants through the maternal line continued to enjoy greater privileges than the others, on whom devolved the responsibility to work, it being then considered that in a certain sense labor was demeaning. Two accompanying factors emerged with the expansion of the nuclear family: the economic because of an extension of means of subsistence, and that of the increase in population in consequence of life in permanent settlements. During the matriarchal-horticultural cycle human migrations occurred on an increasing scale over vast portions of the hemisphere; these came to an end under the influence of the two developments noted. The need for increased labor on the one hand, and the growth of population on the other, made modification of the family arrangement necessary. This double circumstance explains why at the beginning those of masculine lineage, such as Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, were reduced to the condition of serfs.

Such conditions of relative inferiority accelerated the coming of masculine predominance by virtue of the same principle by which the woman gained her privileged legal position following the earliest hunter-gatherer cycle.

In effect, the teachings in the Popol Vuh, confirmed by the ethnographic reality, established the fact that masculine or feminine dominance in the structure of the family invariably derives from the economic factor, since the ones who assure the group's subsistence are those who predominate in the social order. But this ascent in the social scale begins with an earlier condition in which the socially strongest were to be found in relatively inferior conditions of servitude vis-á-vis the others. The social predominance of one or the other sex depends, then, upon the role each plays in the regular provision of food guaranteeing group survival; and this varies throughout the course of the ethnic cycles in accordance with the increase in sources of subsistence. To illustrate this proposition, which has come to form a law of development in American society, we will give examples taken from the ethnographic facts themselves. These agree with the principles offered in the Popol Vuh. Peoples such as the Fuegians, who live by hunting and fishing and are nomadic, depend upon the labor of the men and therefore are governed by patrilineal descendance. Among them the woman is truly a beast of burden assigned the most laborious tasks. D'Orbigny says of them that among all of the women of primitive American tribes their lot is the hardest. In addition to other chores, they must collect fruits, herbs, and roots and, when plant life is scarce as it is in Tierra del Fuego, they must collect small shells, while the men occupy themselves in hunting.

Unfavorable geographic factors prevented the development of Fuegian society, which never rose above a rudimentary condition. When the nomadic tribe moves into a geographically more favorable tropic, collection of fruits and roots takes on an increasing importance until it becomes the principal source of subsistence, thanks to the discovery of new plants by the women and to the beginnings of horticulture. The passage from collection to horticulture is gradual and comes about when the women observe that cast-off parts of plants take root and grow, and improve with cultivation.

When horticulture supersedes hunting as the chief means of subsistence, the family group depends upon the labor of the woman, who assumes the directive role while the man sees the dread of his hunger disappear and no longer has to devote all his energy to supply each day's meals. He has time then to devote himself to other things such as cultivation of the arts. The basic problem of the native American man was hunger, and the Popol Vuh vividly portrays the life of the primitive hunter who had to go days on end without eating (the episodes concerning Zipacná and Caprakán). In contrast with what took place in the Old World, American culture had to develop without passing through the pastoral cycle which in Eurasia was the continuation and natural consequence of that of the nomadic hunter because animals susceptible of domestication abounded, a condition that did not exist in the Americas. Thus passage from the hunter-gatherer cycle to one of horticulture was a logical consequence of the economic development imposed by the milieu, and life then centered about the woman. Later, development of agriculture demanded masculine labor; but, as with horticulture, the beginnings of that new state of things occurred in circumstances in which labor was regarded as demeaning. Those who performed it, then, belonged to a lower social category, the situation to which in the beginning Hunahpú was reduced. But when the group came to depend upon the labor of the man, a reaction took place and life became centered upon him.

This basic socioeconomic principle of American development is expressed in Hunahpú's declaration that "we shall remain so as to feed you." Thereby masculine preponderance is affirmed, and the man assumes responsibility from that time forward for the maintenance of the family. Hunahpú's statement, coinciding with the disappearance of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, makes one think that the privileged legal position of the man within the family occurred at once with the displacement of children of maternal affiliation. All this opens new perspectives for sociology in its attempts to uncover the causal relations involved in the progressive development of native American society, since now it has useful testimony from a historical source of the first order.

The change in conceptions related to work brings with it change in social forms and new concepts about the regulation of property by virtue of the principle that the land belongs to those who cultivate it, and any alteration or modification in territorial status must be reflected in that of inheritance. From this we can see that the type of society goes hand in hand with the customs for the handing on of possessions. Nevertheless, change from maternal to paternal line of descent takes place imperceptibly, modifying without destroying the structure of the communal clan that formed the social unit during the matriarchal period. This we deduce because of the legal position of the grandmother, implying the existence of the macrofamily and therefore of the exogamic clan, strongly knit by the triple ties of consanguinous unity, community of interests, and spiritual union in a common religion.

Such a socioreligious unity is moreover reflected in the theogonic system of the Camé and the Ahpú, the latter representative of a cooperativism contrasting with the simple monotheism of the earlier period, denoting out-and-out individualism or egoism. Now we are dealing with a conception of religious and social brotherhood that extends to the gods themselves. In other words, the Third Age was marked by hamlet cultures based on matrilineal clans whose family structure was built on the same foundations as the actual Mayan family, with the sole difference that descendance followed the female line rather than the male, and authority as head of household belonged to the grandmother. Its essential features were: respect for the elderly, the role of the grandmother as the mother of the whole family (later the grandfather as the paterfamilias), equality of brothers with their first cousins, division of labor, existence of private property, and conferment of social and religious rank by hereditary right. All these passed over into the Fourth Age, but now in the patrilineal clan.

Continuing this very interesting etiological exposition, we see Hunahpú demonstrating his condition of "industrious man" (hombre trabajador), a term used ever since to designate the agrarian gods. The technique for cultivation of maize is exemplified by Hunahpú as follows: the twins go into the seed field (milpa), pick up their digging sticks or hoes lying there (note the use of the possessive here), and make furrows with the implements. With their hatchets they cut and split logs, branches, sticks, and creepers covering the trees. Then they burn the cuttings, after collecting and piling the underbrush and cuttings together. Because of their divine nature they did all this in a moment, just as they had cleared the field of the overgrowth with one blow of the hatchet.

As the twins had ordered, the grandmother came to the field at the proper moment (when the sun was at its zenith) bringing them their meal. But because the twins did not want to be surprised by her, since they had not only cleared the fields but were busy using their blowguns (expressing in this allegory Hunahpú's dual function as Solar and Agrarian deity), when they had finished the fields they instructed a bird called Ixmucur — which they posted in the top of a tree trunk — to watch for the grandmother's arrival. "When she appears," they told it, "you will call out immediately, and we'll pick up the hoe and hatchet." Ixmucur agreed. From that time the carpenter bird, which likes to sit high in the branches of trees, continues to carry out the mission given it by Hunahpú, which is to warn workers in the fields of the presence of persons they cannot yet see. In this way they have warned of the approach of enemy troops, just as geese did in ancient Rome.

The twins' stratagem had a purpose, since by their own example they were setting the pattern for the "industrious man"; but because of their divine nature their work was done magically and without any effort. So, as soon as they heard Ixmucur's call, "they returned to work, one taking the hoe and the other the hatchet. They covered their heads and spread earth upon their hands, like those with perspiring faces who have really been working hard. And so the grandmother saw them. They ate the meal she had brought as if they had indeed developed an appetite from their labors in the field. Then they returned to the hut. 'Truly we are very tired, grandmother,' they said. 'We've ended our day,' and they stretched out to rest in front of the old lady."

This paragraph from the Popol Vuh summarizes the conduct of the perfect field-worker which the Chortí elder continues to encourage through his own example, since in his role as representative of the Agrarian god he must be the best husbandman of the group that he leads, following the standard set by Hunahpú. The latter was in fact "a man fit for all work," as the elders continue to exclaim with admiration. Disguised as a true worker of the seed fields, dirty, covered with debris from the trees, mud, and pieces of moss, just as one sees the Indian amid the activity of his work, Hunahpú extols the role of the husbandman who through his work alone gains the right to eat, because this is the reward of all work according to the customs of the Maya as decreed by Hunahpú. The one who does not work forfeits the right to eat and rest. The posture of rest taken by the twins following their return from the field is still observed by the Chortís, and is reproduced in the picture of a figure in the Dresden Codex, where god B, the homologue of Hunahpú, is seated with legs and arms stretched out.

Assiduity in labor is expressed in the following sentence: "Before the next day dawned the twins returned to the seed field," a custom that the Mayas have observed ever since. Just as Osiris taught the Egyptians the cultivation of wheat and barley, Hunahpú by his own example teaches the operation of the seed field in all of its ramifications. The life of the farmer is one of effort in which nothing is accomplished without constant work. Hunahpú manifests the attitude the Indian must assume toward the difficulties that face him. The man of the tropics must especially struggle against two elements: nature itself, whose vigor threatens the fields not kept clear of undergrowth; and animals that are harmful to agriculture. Both factors combined to destroy Hunahpú's seed field "in a single night."

Far from being dismayed by such a misfortune, the twins again sowed the field with maize and considered what they must do. "Now we will keep watch over our milpa, and we shall see what we do with those who would surprise us," they agreed. Then they returned to their house (note again the use of the possessive), telling their grandmother of the loss incurred, explaining that their field had become one big patch of undergrowth (which happens when the work of clearing the ground has not been done in time). "We are going now to watch over the field, because what they are doing to us is bad." They returned to the seed field and hid themselves in the shade, "waiting without movement, like the lizards, remaining concealed without speaking."

This picturesque description, showing the hero-gods lying in ambush for the marauding animals that came by night, can be applied to the present-day Indian who, following the pattern they established, guards his property at night. "By being merely seen and surprised," the animals are vanquished and unable to carry out their destruction of the crop. Here is the origin of a curious custom of the Chortís based on the fact that an animal (or an enemy) that is surprised, and whose name and features are known, is already overcome by virtue of the principle that to know a person or his name gives one dominance over him. Thus, when the Chortí husbandman goes around his fields at midnight (the hour instituted by Hunahpú), he speaks aloud to the visible and invisible animals as follows: "Now I see you, now I know you, you are so-and-so, and now I pronounce your name," with certainty that this magical formula will cause any real or supposed marauding rodents to flee the field.

All these details on the way to carry out the serial steps of cultivation (sowing, resowing, cleaning, and guarding the seed field) make one think that in the earlier age there was no such work-regimen governing the milpa. It is plausible to think that women did not go out to guard the fields at night and that lacking proper methods of cultivation, the maize plantations did not produce as much as when horticulture gave way to agriculture. Confirming such a hypothesis is the fact that maize did not become divine until Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué incarnated the mystery of the germination and growth of this plant, which ever since has been held sacred and representative of Hunahpú, the Maize god.

Before its deification, maize was no more than one among a number of food plants that, like the bean, yucca, and other vegetables, were combined with hunted food in the diet of the matriarchal family. The divinization of maize occurred when the kernels had attained some degree of development, to judge by contemporary customs which only regard the largest kernels as the residence of spirit or the Maize god.

From the time of its deification, the maize milpa is something so sacred for the Indian of Quiché-Maya culture that he dedicates all his time to it, caring for it with painstaking attention, as he would a treasure.

The Popol Vuh then recounts the struggle made by the twins against the animal marauders who, because they "have been seen and surprised," are finally subdued and must take flight while the twins try to catch them by hand.

The puma, the jaguar, the mountain cat, coyote, wild boar, and coati refused to be captured, but the deer and rabbit ran with their tails between their legs (a sign of fear) and their pursuers seized them. But the tails broke off, and Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué were left holding only the ends. From that time rabbits and deer have stubby tails. The twins also caught the rat, squeezed its body and burned its tail, "and since then rats have hairless tails and bulging eyes because of the way the twins dealt with them."

This curious etiological legend explaining the form of the tails of these three creatures reminds one of another and similar tradition obtained by Dr. Jesús Aguilar Paz in Chamelecón, the old territory of the Hicaques, which runs as follows: in the time of Hun Bátz, who fed on beetles and spiders, when witches flew and owls spoke, the rabbit had a tail like a cat's, the rat a tail like the horse's, and the deer one like that of a sheep dog. But the day came when by a work of magic these three tails were transformed — and here the informant gave a story similar to what we transscribe from the Popol Vuh.

In its difficulties, the rat exclaimed, "Don't kill me as you think to do, because sowing the seed field is not your work." "Well, then, have you anything to tell us?" the twins asked it, because they inferred from what the rat had said that it possessed great knowledge. "If you let me go free I will tell you, because I have truth in my belly; but first give me something to eat," said the rat. The wise rodent demands "payment" in food first before making its statement. But such demands are not acceptable because the twins are laying down the new patterns of conduct, and according to these any reward of nourishment must first be merited.

"We will feed you afterwards, but speak first," they told the rat. Then the rat revealed the secret hiding place where the seven Ahpú had placed their insignia of splendor before leaving for Xibalbá. "Spears, gloves, and ball were left hanging under the eaves of the house. Your grandmother doesn't want to show them to you because these had brought about the death of your fathers," said the rat.

Since the rat had spoken, they gave it a meal of maize, dry pepper, beans, cacao, and pataxte seeds. "This now will be your food; hereafter you will search for refuse to gnaw upon for sustenance," the youths told the rat. Their list shows the food plants of the time. These composed the sumptuous meal given the rat in exchange for its service, but from then on it would have a different way of feeding itself. Thus the rat lives on garbage, and men must carry out Hunahpú's sentence by preventing the rat from touching foods reserved only for humankind.

Because it had revealed its secret — a serious and punishable thing that is contrary to the rules of Mayan ethics — the rat fears to appear before the grandmother; but the twins offer to protect it.

After having thought together during the night and reached agreement, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué went to their house at noon (the hour corresponding to the sun's zenith as well as that of the Agrarian god embodied in the twins, the position determining their moment for action). They carried the rat with them, hidden from view. One then entered by the door and the other through an opening in the wall, and together they let the rat go. Note this example of a plurality in a single act; it is a turn of language constantly found in the Popol Vuh and signifies a monotheist conception, based on the idea of a plurality within unity.

The twins asked the grandmother for something to eat. "Grind our meal" (the use of the metate). "We wish a chili dressing, grandmother," they said (A. Recinos translation). The grandmother complied, placing the soup and meat before them (note how the twins request their meal and the old woman obeys).

By quietly emptying the water jars and then asking the grandmother for drinking water, they get her out of the house, since she must fetch the water from the fountain — just as do present-day Indian women in observance of the norms established by Ixmucané. Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, their grandmother thus absent, begin the project they had thought about and agreed on during the night.

In order to keep their grandmother away from the house longer, they send a mosquito to bore holes in the water jar (the act of throwing the magical dart that we encounter so often). Ixmucané tried in vain to prevent the water from leaking out of the jar. Then, mentioning the grandmother's delay and their great thirst, they sent their mother Ixquic to look for the old woman.

Now alone, they took their fathers' ball, lances, gloves, and pelts and hid them by the road leading to the ball court. These were brought down by the rat through a hole in the house's roof (the image of the sun, identified with the ball, which at the end of its course across the celestial vault goes under the earth through an opening).

Then the youths set out toward the river where they find their mother and grandmother occupied with the task of closing up the hole in the face of the water jar. "What happened to you? We got tired of waiting for you and so came here," said the twins. "Well, look then," replied the old woman, "we cannot close up the face of my water jar." But the two youths closed it up in a second, and they all returned to the house, the twins going ahead of their grandmother. And that is how they recovered their fathers' game ball.

We have emphasized Ixmucané's expression regarding the "face of her water jar" because in it we find the genesis of the glyph for the moon, shown as a large, narrow-mouthed pitcher (cántaro) which is the symbol for Ixmucané, the old Water goddess and Lunar deity. The "face of her water jar" is similar to the very face of the goddess, i.e., her starry form as seen in the sky, inasmuch as the Indian conceives the moon as a gigantic pitcher that pours water from the sky. Thus, to this day he refers to the face of the water jar, and calls its handles ears. The use of this globe-shaped receptacle, which goes back to the matriarchal-horticultural period, is typical of peoples such as the Taoajka who preserve the culture of that time and continue making such pitchers even now. This shows that pottery-making had undergone notable advances since its humble beginnings in the Second Age, and that the kitchen implements of the Third Age included the grinding stone, water jars, vessels made of calabashes, and earthen bowls or large cups in the shape of the half-calabash. In the remote past as well as the present day, those vessels of globular form designed to carry water are used exclusively by women in accordance with the practice begun by Ixmucané. Their function is moreover made known in some places by ideograms painted on their "faces" which have to do with rain or water. The double character of the goddess, anthropomorphic and heavenly, is expressed linguistically in the Chortí names for the moon: ka tú and uh. Compare the Chortí ka tú with the Miskito ka ti, Arawak kat bi, and Quiché ka ati. The ka tú (our mother, our queen) refers to the anthropomorphic aspect of the divine grandmother, the rank Ixmucané had in the mythological family. The other vocable, uh, designates the night star and connotes the idea of sacred, blessed; it is also used to denote the semispherical earthen bowl used in worship.

The order of march, with the twins preceding their mother and grandmother, mirrors another present-day native custom whereby the children walk ahead of their parents, going "Indian file" in order of importance in conformity to the astro-theogonic model in which the young sun (Aurora) precedes its father (Sun).

The twins next go out to play ball in the ball court, but not without first cleaning off this court where their fathers had played. This requirement, as we have seen, continues a custom going back to the First Age when primeval man appealed to his Creator in clean places.

Besides symbolizing the sun's relative position in the order of its rising and its daily trajectory, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, playing alone for a long time on opposite sides of the court, represent the position of the sun and the moon at opposing solstices, just as this continues to be depicted on Chortí altars. All this unmistakably reflects a gradual progress in astronomic and cosmogonic knowledge.

Of course, the two players were heard by the Lords of Xibalbá, just as these had heard their fathers, the seven Ahpú, since the roof of the Camé's dwelling place is the surface of the earth whose openings form the auditory canals of the underworld gods. These Lords became angry, and again ordered their messengers to notify the twins that within the space of seven days (the ritual cipher) they should present themselves in Xibalbá to play a game of ball.

Taking the road that the youths would come along to reach their houses (note the use of the plural here), the messengers deliver their message to Ixmucané, who replies that the order will be complied with. But instantly the old woman became filled with anxiety, recalling that her sons lost their lives in the same circumstances. "Whom can I find to go and warn my grandchildren?" she thought and, despondent, went into her house.

Then, as if catching her thought, a louse fell into her skirt. She seized it and put it in the palm of her hand. "Would you go and call my grandchildren in the ball court?" she asked the louse. "Then you will tell them I say that the messengers from Xibalbá have arrived and they must be there within seven days."

The louse left lazily to carry out its commission, when on the road it met a boy named Tamazul (toad). "Where are you going?" the toad asked the louse. "I carry a command in my belly and I'm looking for the twins," it replied. Note that as in the case of the rat, the belly is the organ of intelligence, memory, and feelings, functions that are also located in the heart, as we shall see, which explains the symbolic equivalence of the Heart and Umbilicus of Heaven and of Earth, terms by which the Chortís designate the central Deity.

The ambivalence of the toad and the human being is still preserved in Maya worship in the alternate use of persons who croak like frogs or of actual batrachians, for they "implore better than we do" during the ceremony to entreat for rain.

"Don't you want me to swallow you? You will see how fast I run and we will get there promptly," said the toad. "Good," answered the louse. It was immediately swallowed, and so the two traveled on for a long time, until they met a great white snake called Zakicaz. The same series of questions was asked of the toad, which consented and was swallowed by the snake, so that the message might reach the ball court. Later the three encountered a bird of prey (a sparrow hawk or raven); the scene was repeated, the bird swallowing the snake and flying instantly toward the ball court.

Ever since, birds of prey eat snakes, these eat toads, and toads eat insects. Besides this meaning, and to show the relative velocity of the animals in question, the allegory unquestionably objectifies an astronomic episode, the animals symbolizing celestial bodies whose importance has the same relation as that of their relative speed. First, the bird of prey, representative of the sun; next the white snake which in Chortí mythology represents the Milky Way; thereafter the chac (toad) or god of Rain, projected in the star; and finally the louse, whose meaning we do not know.

It is of interest to point out that for the first time mention is made in allegorical form of the Milky Way, whose movements were perfectly well known to the Maya, and which still plays a principal role in Chortí astronomy, inasmuch as it signals the time of sowing known as "the second." Both the central Deity, as well as the Milky Way and the gods of rain, work in close association, just as the group of animals cooperated to carry Ixmucané's message to the twins. They also offer a vivid image of the conception of a plurality of beings enclosed in a unity, as found in Maya monotheist belief.

Reaching the ball court, the bird of prey alighted on the building there and cawed three times: quako! quako! quako! This defines the origin of the name of the raven, the onomatopoeia of its sound. The three cries have also a ritual meaning, and with them the bird attracted the attention of the players who, seeing it, shot at it with their blowguns, whereupon it fell to the ground.

Then the hawk spoke, saying it had a message in its belly which it would deliver when its eye, wounded by the youths' dart, should be healed. "Very well," they said, and taking coagulated sap from a plant (resin of the rubber tree according to Raynaud; of the pine according to Villacorta), they applied it to the eye, whereupon it was instantly healed.

Hunahpú in this case performs as a healer, one of the attributes of the Agrarian god and of the Chortí elder, its authentic representative. At the same time a formula from the native pharmacopoeia is described for treatment of cataracts or ills of the eye, whose origin is this miraculous operation of Hunahpú. If the latter this time heeds the bird's imperious request contrary to the way he treated the rat, which he made to speak first, it is because now we are dealing with the nahual of Hunrakán, i.e., with an emissary of the Solar deity which since the time of its curing by Hunahpú is the only animal that can look full into the sun (in Mexico it is the eagle).

At once the hawk spits up the snake which in turn ejects the toad; but it doesn't succeed in dislodging the louse, because the insect stayed locked in its mouth. The toad hadn't really swallowed the louse but had only acted as if it had done so. Because of that the twins, treating it as one would a liar, beat the toad, "giving it kicks in the rump, so that since then the bones in its rump and legs are fallen. Instantly they opened the toad's mouth and found the louse caught in the gum, taking the insect from the toad."

Aside from the etiological meaning, explaining the form and movement of toads, this allegory emphasizes another rule of Quiché-Maya ethics: the denunciation and punishment of lying, a vice that is still dealt with in the way Hunahpú began it. Palacio mentions, in fact, that "whoever is found lying is brutally whipped." (Relación al Rey don Felipe II, dated March 8, 1576) So deep-rooted is the love of truth among the natives that even today those who preserve their traditional social and religious organization continue to respect that elevated principle of ethics.

Ixmucané's herald at last delivers its important message, telling the twins that through their grandmother the Camé challenge them to a game of ball which has to be held within a period of seven days, and therefore they must take with them their lances, gloves, pelts, and ball so that they can "fight for their existence there." This is to be a decisive struggle between two kinds of culture, personified by the twins and the Camé.

Before setting out for Xibalbá, the youths went to take leave of their grandmother, leaving with her a personal keepsake, reflecting another rule of conduct observed by the present-day Indian. And the memento which Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué left as "a sign of their existence" was nothing less than a stalk of maize.

Each of us will sow a stalk of maize in the center of our house. If they disappear, it will be a sign that we have died. "They are dead," you will say then. But if they sprout again, "They live!" you will say. "O our grandmother! You, little grandmother! You, our mother! Do not weep, we have left you the mark of our word," the twins told the two women. Then Hunahpú sowed one stalk and Ixbalamqué did the same; inside the house they sowed them and not in the field, neither in damp ground, but rather in the middle of their house did they leave them sown.

This episode is extremely important from the theogonic point of view inasmuch as it confirms the double function of Hunahpú as god of Maize and as Solar god (cerbatanero: shooter of darts), and is moreover a typical example of nahualism, a belief that is still firmly fixed in the native mind.

Because the stalks of maize sown by the twins are their alter egos or unfoldments, by that token they will suffer an identic fate. If the twins die the stalks will die, but if they live then the stalks will sprout and grow. This explains why they were sown in dry soil and in the middle of the house-floor, for they represent the Maize god in the central point of the cosmos, here symbolized by the house, where the plants will remain as the image of the divine youths. The metamorphosis or fate of the stalks of maize no longer depends upon the quality of the soil or of any other natural condition of things, but upon the destiny of the twins, their alter egos, which they reflect. This explains also the etymological relationship between the words center (insin) and maize (isin).

Nahualism embodies the belief that there exists between the person and the nahual (animal or vegetable) a fully determined, intimate relationship that begins and ends with the life of the person. In the ethnographic part of Los Chortís we have given cases showing that the death of the individual automatically implies that of his or her nahual, and vice versa. This fact explains the great veneration that is accorded the nahual.

The picturesque allegory of the Popol Vuh is explained in terms of Chortí theology by the category of brother gods (with the meaning of an alter ego) such as the Maize and young Solar god, functions that are acquired by the twins, as will be seen. This intimate relationship is also expressed by a common denominator, since both the Maize god and Solar god are numeral gods whose number is five. Mexican mythology offers us Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal, Cinteotl and Xilonen, the functional counterparts of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué in their double character of solar gods (luni-solar) and maize gods. Similarly to the Chortí mythology, Xochipilli is the brother of Cinteotl. This explains why in a Mexican song Xochipilli is mentioned as Cinteotl, as also Seler's identification of Tezcatlipoca (Agrarian god) with Macuilxóchitl (Solar god or god of Summer). In another version Ce Acatl (one stalk) is the name of Quetzalcoatl in his function as a young god, and his hieroglyph in the form of a stalk of maize corresponds with that of Hunahpú.

In short, we find in the very Mayan glyphs the ideographic correspondence with the concepts discussed above, expressed in the signs kin and kan, both being represented by a spherical form that is objectified in the Popol Vuh — the first by the game ball, at once the symbol of the sun and the equivalent of the sign kin; and the second by the grain of maize, the equivalent of the kan glyph. Their single genesis could not be better expressed — as we shall see below — than in the fact that both signs correspond to the head of Hunahpú. Finally, the positioning of the maize sprouts in the center of the house, coinciding with the descent of the twins into the underworld, expresses another custom of the time, consisting of burial of the dead within the house, a custom that is widespread in the Americas.

Before going to the next chapter, we should mention the custom preserved by Quiché Indians of sowing two maize stalks in the middle of the plaza in front of their house, in remembrance of the stalks left behind by Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué as a memento for their grandmother as they left for Xibalbá (information furnished by Ovidio Rodas Corzo).

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